22 July 2010

Kunstler: Vinyl siding and the archaeology of the suburbs

I recently discovered James Howard Kunstler's amazing 'Eyesore of the Month' series, in which he drives me hysterics with his evocations of everything that's wrong with north American architecture. His meditation on covering old buildings with new siding:
Another tragedy in the making: vinyl siding goes up over a brick row house in Saratoga Springs, New York. This helps explain why Americans have no faith in the new. In this case study, the new literally swallows up history. There are some interesting things we've learned about vinyl siding since it came into use about three decades ago. One is that exposure to sunlight makes it torque, warp, crack, and eventually disintegrate. Since paint doesn't stick to it, and it comes with the "promise" of no maintainence (so the owners won't wash it), what you inevitably get after only a few years is a dingy patina of automobile exhaust. Eventually, vinyl siding's inherent crumminess and acquired scunginess will depress the property values of all the other houses in proximity.
Interesting to think of the archaeological record of the future: while it's an overwhelming visual statement, covering old buildings in new siding will probably leave little or no trace in the archaeological record. But assume these evanescent (compared to brick) coverings really do depress property values, thereby changing the social fabric of the neighborhood. Would it alter material culture patterns in a way that archaeologists could detect? Is there a ghost signature of vinyl siding - to be found in different food consumption, children's toys, car tires, or whatever it is that will lie underneath the backyards of America's less affluent suburban neighborhoods, centuries in the future? (High concentrations of saturated fats in the soil perhaps?)


  1. Kunstler's "Eyesore of the month" is a great blog, very interesting from an architectural and urban viewpoint. I have sometimes thought that it would be interesting to start a list of "ancient eyesore of the month." I have just seen a modern eyesore that was built to look like an ancient ceremonial center: The Centro Ceremonial Otomi:


  2. Michael, excellent idea. I think I'm gonna take it. Mind if I start by reblogging the Centro Ceremonial? I love the thing, it really is a fine low modernist piece. Those absurd cone things!

  3. Sure, go ahead. This thing is listed as a "zona arqueologica" on Mexican government topo maps.